Title: Dealing in Dreams
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Dystopia
Subjects and Themes: Feminism
Page Count: 336 (hardback)
Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nala quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Riders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone—she cares about.
Nalah must choose whether or not she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she’s created for good?
I went into Dealing in Dreams expecting three things:
1) “The Outsiders meets Mad Max: Fury Road”
2) Female friendships
3) Subversive look at feminism
To my delight and surprise, one of those “X meets Y” blurbs actually proved to be pretty accurate because the world of Dealing in Dreams is one of girl gangs and throwdowns and unrepentant, gritty ultraviolence.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic society where women rule the top of the food chain–as gang members and soldiers to Dessee, the city’s ruler–and men either toil away in factories or in clubs as sex workers (“papi chulos”). And dreams (or sueños)–a drug made to induce euphoric dreaming–are manufactured and dealt like currencies. Overall, it’s a cool, unforgiving city and Rivera paints a stark portrait of it.
I wasn’t as impressed with the female friendships. I never got a good sense of the other girls in Nalah’s gang, and there were definitely no heartwrenching “Stay gold” moments to be found here.
The biggest draw of the book, aside from its worldbuilding, is the theme that it carries. Rivera addresses gender roles and equality and the issue of feminism being presented as the direct opposite of male dominance–the idea that tough, rough women and submissive men equates to a better world. It asks the readers whether lopping off the head of one kind of inequality only to replace it with another can really be called progress.
“You are forced to abide by rigid rules on what it means to be a man and a woman…Do you think violence makes you more of a woman? Does forcing papis to work at boydegas make them a better ally?”
And I love that. That’s a fantastic message. And I loved the way it was presented in the first half.
But I found the second half to be a massive let-down. It felt like an abridged version of the book, with several sections missing from the middle, and events happened far too quickly to pack any kind of emotional punch. And this denial of a satisfying lead-up to the ending renders that message, not moot, but significantly less powerful.
The writing style also plays a part in this issue. It’s super clipped and plain which fits the setting and the MC’s personality pretty well, but doesn’t do much in terms of showing off the secondary characters, and ends up muting scenes that could otherwise have been poignant.
The book is still definitely worth giving a shot, but considering the sheer amount of potential it had, my feelings on Dealing in Dreams are mostly of disappointment.